Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Things I Did Today
  • Worked from 10:45 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Added category labels to my blog posts, which appear at the bottom of any post that's a member of a category, and also below the Blog Archive on the right. Clicking on a category pulls up all the posts within that category.
3 Recommended Links
Thoughts -- Excerpts From The Middle Ages, Part 7: Priests And Churches
Visitations by higher authority were infrequent, and the isolated parish priests could do about as they pleased. Often they contended themselves with saying mass, leading the singing, pronouncing exorcisms and cursings, and announcing news bulletins, lists of strayed sheep, or the penalties imposed by the manor court. . . . The church's appeal to marvels and miracles encouraged the countryfolk's tendency toward superstition. The peasants might treat the sacred host as a charm: one peasant even crumbled it on his cabbages to keep off caterpillars.

People treated their church very familiarly, wandering in and out, talking and joking as if at market, or popping in to seal a solemn bargain. Since the edifice was usually the village's only capacious hall, it was used for town meetings, elections, and court sessions, and even for such useful purposes as the storage of surplus hay. Many young men attended services only to ogle the girls. It was in church that Petrarch fell in love with his Laura.

The churchyard was sometimes the scene of noisy celebrations, such as vintage festivals. These were the descendants of ancient pagan revels, and the ancestors of our socials, bazaars, and Sunday-school picnics. In England church-ales or scot-ales, parties in which every participant paid his scot, or assessment, were held as benefits. The taverns were closed, and booths were set up in the cemetery for the sale of bread and ale. The church-ales were likely to end in unseemly brawls.

In the early Middle Ages the parish priests were generally married men. Church authorities carried on an endless battle to enforce celibacy for two main reasons -- spiritual and practical. The spiritual reason was that the priest, by renouncing normal life and hope of posterity, gave secure evidence of total devotion to the church's unworldly ideal. He became a little more than human. The practical reason was that the celibate priest had no duty other than that of his priesthood. In effect, he married the church and gave all his fatherly love to his charges.


The papacy fought fiercely against clerical marriage. Priests' wives were reduced to the status of concubines, and by the end of the thirteenth century, even clerical concubines were rarely seen in western Europe. Sexual misdemeanors among the clergy were not thereby eliminated, as a mass of evidence shows. Salimbene reported that a hundred times he had heard Italian priests cite as a text from Saint Paul the words: "Si non caste tamen caute (If you can't be good, be careful)."

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